For most practitioners working in Early Years there will have been a time when the word 'Montessori' popped into your consciousness. Maybe in your training or maybe hearing a colleague mention the word. Then follows a quick Google search and mini panic (or was that just me?). Is this something I should be doing? Is it new and revolutionary? Is it 1970s hippy claptrap? Am I already a Montessori teacher without knowing it? What's the big deal all about? Well for anyone who has pondered any of these questions here is a basic overview of Montessori teaching.
As the name may suggest to you, Maria Montessori was the creator of what we now call the Montessori approach. In answer to some of the above questions she was neither a 1970s free-loving hippy nor a 21st century blogging pioneer. She was in fact a medically trained Italian doctor who died at age 82 in 1952 (so for those of you who can't be bothered with a spot of maths whilst sat in your jammies drinking your morning coffee - she was born way back in the 1800s!) She specialised in scientific pedagogy and in particular studying and supporting "phrenasthenic" children (children who nowadays we would refer to as children with Special Educational Needs). Most of her research was based in the classroom and so her opinions on a holistic approach to learning for all children soon became a teaching method in its own right. Over the following years Maria travelled the world establishing schools and lecturing in her approach. So how did an approach first named the Montessori Approach in 1912 survive and thrive to still be popular and (on occasion) seen as daring and revolutionary over 100 years later? Well it was given a hand by Maria's many published works and the 4000 schools she established in her lifetime. There are now Montessori schools throughout the world focussing on ages 3-6 years (though some schools have older children too). The main drive for the schools is that an emphasis is placed on process not result, learning is child centred not teacher controlled and children are taught to do things for internal reward not external reward.
The Montessori Approach
It can be daunting to class this as a philosophy, as many websites do. Once we hear the word 'philosophy' panic sets in. It all sounds very scientific, technical and academic doesn't it? Far too complex for our simple little minds to fathom without some form of PhD to back us up. Well worry not. The Montessori 'Approach' is actually quite a simple and instinctive approach once you learn a bit more about it. To take away the fear here are the main points of the approach.
So as you can see the Montessori approach was revolutionary for her time, when many educators and adults saw children as just miniature adults who needed to be taught. However many of her fundamental philosophies obviously underpin a lot of what we now believe and act upon as Early Years Practitioners (and is there a large smack of the Montessori approach in what we now class in the UK as 'Characteristics of Effective Learning'?) So how is the Montessori classroom set up and how do the teachers work?
The Montessori Classroom
These are some of the main elements you would observe in a Montessori classroom. Some you would expect but some of the more structured elements came as a surprise to me. What about you?
Are You Already Teaching in a Montessori Style?
Well this is a question for you alone to answer but, though it is unlikely that a non-Montessori practitioner completely follows this approach (in particular the non-use of fantasy role play, the lack of punishment and reward and the quite strict and grown up expectations of child behaviour) in a general sense all of us are teaching in a Montessori style to some extent. This is largely due to the similarities between the EYFS Development Matters guidance and the Montessori approach, particularly in relation to valuing the unique child and a focus on Characteristics of Learning and outdoor learning.
Here are some of the ways you are probably already embracing a Montessori approach without realising it:
Becoming an Accredited Montessori Practitioner
So as we have discovered most of us will instinctively already take a Montessori approach to child care however this does not make us Montessori Practitioners. If you do want to go down those lines to either work in a Montessori setting or set up your own Montessori setting then the most common way to go about doing so is to take a specialised Montessori course. The most common route is to do a Montessori Diploma at Level 3 and 4 which also includes a placement at a Montessori setting.